Should you be concerned If your baby sleeps with their mouth open?
As a parent, the sight of your baby sleeping peacefully — let alone sleeping at all — can bring a sense of relief. But while you're gawking over your sleeping angel, you should take the opportunity to properly monitor your baby’s sleeping habits to make sure their sleep is healthy. A tiny snore and drooping bottom lip may make for an adorable video, but it can actually be cause for alarm.
Whether wide open or just slightly cracked, mouth breathing during sleep may be a critical clue to your baby’s health. Mouth breathing typically suggests that your infant cannot breathe well enough to keep his or her mouth closed. There are an array of reasons behind this issue, as well as methods to resolve it. We’ve compiled everything you need to know about why your baby sleeps with mouth open, and how to treat any obstructions or conditions so you both can sleep soundly at night.
Is it normal for babies to keep their mouth open?
Breathing with the mouth open, even cracked, is not a normal, biological, or healthy way to breathe while sleeping. Healthy newborn babies will automatically breathe out of their noses. So, when a baby sleeps with their mouth open, there's a good chance their nose is blocked. If a newborn sleeps with mouth open a few times, or for a short period, it’s probably not a cause for concern. Long term, however, babies are more likely to develop a multitude of problems from sleeping with their mouths open.
Experts warn that baby mouth breathing is considered a breathing disorder. Your baby is more likely to develop sleep problems, behavior problems, and problems with their mouth. They may have a harder time eating or learning how to move their tongue. If you notice your baby sleeps with their mouth open frequently, it’s important to do some research to determine why.
Why does my newborn sleep with her mouth open?
If you’ve noticed your infant sleeping with mouth open, it’s important to keep an eye on your baby and to look for some signs. Since we’ve established that baby mouth breathing while asleep is not a normal occurrence, it is typically medical conditions that are the culprit.
Allergies are a common reason babies breathe through their mouth. Babies can develop allergies early on, which results in an increased production of mucus that can block their airway. They may sleep with their heads tilted back and their mouth open to make it easier for them to breathe with mucus in their throat.
Newborns often sleep with their mouth open if they are experiencing severe or chronic congestion. Accumulated mucus can block the nose and force them to breathe through their mouth. This can happen during summer when the air makes the mucus in the nostril dry. It can also occur due to an illness or allergy.
A blockage in your baby’s nose can be hard to detect if they don't sound stuffed up and there’s nothing dripping out. However, babies' nostrils are so tiny they can get blocked by a very small amount of mucus.
A common cold can also cause additional mucus to accumulate in your baby’s airway passages, making it more difficult to breathe. It can also result in a stuffy nose. If you think your newborn’s mouth breathing is due to a cold, try suctioning their nose to see if it clears up the problem.
Enlarged tonsils or adenoids can block your baby’s airway and lead to sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a condition that can cause your baby to snore and pause breathing in their sleep. They most often will start breathing again on their own, but there are some cases that are fatal. Other sleep apnea symptoms include:
- restless sleep
- sleep terrors
- consistently tired despite getting adequate sleep
If you’re concerned that your newborn has sleep apnea, it’s important to consult your pediatrician. This condition is rare in newborns, but it’s always better to be safe.
Nasal breathing is difficult for some babies because of a deviated septum, which is when the cartilage and bone in their nose are collapsed or deformed. In this situation, a baby will often use their mouth to breathe instead. This development of a deviated septum may occur during the fetal stage, causing some babies to be born with the condition.
Newborns that are tongue-tied (a tongue's restricted range of motion) are often unable to touch their tongue to the roof of their mouth, which makes suction and the act of sucking difficult. A normal tongue stays suctioned to the roof of the mouth when nose breathing, and without suction, the mouth falls open. This abnormality not only results in mouth breathing during sleep, but it also causes difficulty breastfeeding as well. In some cases, the tongue can fall back into the airway causing a complete or partial obstruction.
What happens when baby sleeps with mouth open?
The cilia (tiny hairs) in every person’s nose—your baby’s included—are meant to filter bacteria and small particles in the air so that their lungs do not breathe them in. When breathing through their mouth, their tonsils and adenoids at the back of their throat are responsible for filtering the air, and over time, can become swollen and enlarged. This can decrease your baby’s airway, making it harder to breathe. In addition, your infant may be more prone to tonsilitis (infection of the tonsils).
Dentists and doctors say there are many potential issues that could develop from your infant sleeping with mouth open. These potential complications may include long face syndrome. This means your child’s lower facial features can disproportionately elongate, causing a larger chin, gummy smile, open bite, or an overall narrow face.
Because mouth breathing is typically caused by difficulty breathing, it can also lower the concentration of oxygen in the blood. Over time, this may lead to anything from heart issues to high blood pressure.
Newborns desperately need sleep as well. It is one of the most important factors in your child’s development, and unfortunately, babies and kids who breathe through their mouths during sleep, often don’t sleep as deeply as those who breathe through their noses. Lack of quality sleep can negatively affect your child’s performance, growth, concentration, behavior, and development. There has even been a link between mouth breathing and symptoms typically associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Other signs and symptoms your baby may experience when sleeping with their mouth open:
- Dry lips and mouth
- Worsened asthma
- Tongue thrusting
- Teeth changes
- Posture changes
What to do if baby sleeps with mouth open
If you are concerned, or you have noticed your baby mouth breathing a lot while sleeping, it’s important to talk to your pediatrician. If the cause of the mouth breathing is due to a minor inconvenience, such as too much mucus, you’ll want to find a solution to the temporary problem immediately in order to prevent a long term habit and future problems. The following common remedies will help your baby breathe better and get more restful sleep.
Use A Humidifier
Dry air is known to increase mucus production. This can happen to all of us, but babies have tiny airways, so that small increase can cause major problems. Use a humidifier to increase the moisture in the air and decrease the amount of mucus they produce.
Suction It Out
Babies don’t know how to cough up phlegm or blow their nose yet, so you get to do it for them—yay! Suctioning a baby’s nose or mouth can help remove excess mucus that is making it hard to breathe. Just be sure not to overdo this. Too much suction (when not necessary) can actually increase mucus production. Use a nasal syringe to remove the mucus and then stop.
Use An Air Filter
One of the most common causes of extra snot is poor air quality. There could be allergens in the air that bother your baby’s allergies, resulting in your little one having more mucus. An air filter will instantly improve air quality and might decrease mucus.
Remove Allergens If Possible
If you have pets, clean and vacuum regularly to remove pet dander from the house. Smoke outside (if you have to), and don’t forget to let some fresh air in. Cleaning regularly can go a long way.
Give Your Newborn A Warm Bath
If your newborn enjoys baths or finds them relaxing, it can instantly cure fussiness. The warm water can also help thin out mucus so that it can drain easier, making them calmer and less stuffy.
Use Saline Drops
Saline drops are easy to use and highly effective. If your baby has mucus that is too thick to drain properly, saline drops can be used to make it thinner. A few drops inside their nose will help the snot come out. You’ll probably end up wiping their nose every few minutes, but your baby will be able to breathe much easier. Use saline drops only as directed.
When to see a doctor
If you notice your newborn is having trouble breathing, is choking, or turning blue or purple, call 911 or take them to the emergency room immediately. These are signs that your child is not breathing, or having tremendous trouble breathing.
In most cases, an occasional gaping mouth during sleep is a sign of congestion. If you’ve tried the above remedies and your baby continues to sleep with their mouth open, it’s worth bringing it up to your pediatrician.
In some cases, enlarged tonsils and adenoids won’t respond to home treatment and they may be infected. In others, they may just be larger due to genetics. Your doctor may recommend testing, sleep studies, or surgery to resolve more serious issues.
As a parent, try not to become panicked or overly anxious, but rather be observant. Pay attention to the signs, use home remedies to relieve congestion if necessary, and make sure to call your pediatrician about any questions or concerns you have.